Jim Montague is the executive editor for Control. Email him at [email protected].
I spend a lot of my time researching topics on the Internet, exchanging e-mails with sources to get updates on those subjects, and even using social media to get answers for all my stories. However, I still think I get better information and ideas from telephone interviews because the give-and-take allows me to ask better questions and get back better and more immediate responses from my sources.
Likewise, best of all is getting unchained from my desk, and getting out into the world to talk to people face-to-face. Similar to live sporting events and live theater, editorial interviews are much better in person. Of course, this is true because more of the five senses are engaged in-person, but it's also because there's just a better chance of running across a new and informative person or a new and useful technology when we're out in the field and looking around directly for ourselves.
In addition, it's way better than looking up potential sources in the phone book as I used to do, and still better than researching on the Internet as I do now. Naturally, the Internet has speed and global reach on its side, but visiting machine builders directly at their shops or at a tradeshow can deliver deeper, faster dives and more concentrated shots of insight than a superficial web page. Of course, here in the Chicago area, we're blessed with the many shows that come to McCormick Place, the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in nearby Rosemont, Ill., and other venues large and small. These events include PackExpo, IMTS for machine tools, NPE for plastics, Sensors Expo, ProMat for material handling, Automate and Assembly for automation devices, and a host of others.
The exhibits I usually look for are the builders who have made the effort to bring, set up and operate at least one of their devices at an event. Booths with only video screens always seem kind of empty, and might as well be back on the Internet.
For instance, I recently decided at the last minute to visit the Print 13 and Converting, Printing and Packaging Expo on Sept. 8, and I immediately ran into a parade of interesting and helpful people.
Roger Matusek, service representative for Duplo USA in Santa Ana, Calif., and technician for Graphic Associates Inc. in Cleveland, reported on the innovations in Duplo's two-year-old DBMi saddle-stitching system with PC-based control and Ethernet networking, which is much better at folding digital, printed materials. "In the past, folding digital, printed materials could crack the ink, and folding booklets with a lot of pages would allow a good crease inside, but the outside would be too puffy," explains Matusek. "Now, if we have a booklet with 15 sheets, DBMi's controls can run eight and then seven, crease each smaller section separately, and then combine them. This gives us the much tighter look on our booklets that we used to have in the old days."
Likewise, John Curie, business unit leader for Thiele Technologies' Streamfeeder product line, reported that its 10-year-old XT1200 star-wheel dropper usually is positioned over a flighted conveyor and drops counted sets of materials into it, but its former controls supplier recently quit supporting those components. "We were forced to move to PLCs, and so we evaluated several solutions, and adopted motors and controls from Rockwell Automation in our main drive and two dropper paddles," Curie says. "Now, we have better control and speed, and we can run at 13,000 inches per minute. So, if we have 12 envelopes or other items in a package, this means we can run about 120 packages per minute.
My point is that most, if not all, of these useful tweaks, updates and innovations might not come across if I checked out their related devices on the web. Sure, there's oceans of detail and tons of promotional material, but it's difficult to find what I want if I have to swim through all of it.
I think it's much easier and faster to ask an expert, have them sort through their minds, make a suggestion to me, allow me to ask another question, and then clue me in about essential nuggets that readers might find helpful, too.
Of course, YouTube might do the much of the same thing, and I will check it out. But, again, it's just a one-way video street.
If their cameras are looking at the people and devices I want to see, then smart phone interfaces like Skype or Facetime might replicate the in-person experience well enough. When I get one, I'll let you know.